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Making Waves

By Ross Kentner

You could say that Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died in vain. But justice and public policy are being well served in the aftermath of his death. Canadians are leading a global debate on when it is appropriate for police to use tazers and how they can be deployed without killing the person tazered.

I hope we come to a day when Canadian citizen Ashley Smith will not have died in vain. Her death in a Kitchener prison cell two years ago cries out for justice and much needed changes in public policy. The 19-year-old suicided in full view of seven guards who were under strict orders not to intervene as long as she was breathing. Later, charges of criminal negligence against four of the guards were dismissed because the crown determined they couldn+?G??G??t have saved her in time. Well, if you wait until she stopped breathing, I guess not.

The Moncton, New Brunswick girl spent most of her life since the age of 15 in maximum security segregation. Convicted of only minor offenses, she never received a comprehensive psychological assessment while in federal custody. In less than a year she was transferred 9 times between 6 institutions.

On September 24th, 2007, Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society visited Ashley and found her in a cell the size of a bathroom, barely covered with a padded gown with no clothes or belongings. They talked through a slot in the cell door and Ms. Pate filled out a grievance asking that she be taken to a hospital. The attending guard witnessed that Ms. Pate signed on Ashley+?G??G??s behalf. The grievance was placed in a box and never opened until several weeks after her death.

On October 15th 2007, Ashely was referred to a hospital in St. Thomas, Ontario but there was no bed available. Four days later she killed herself while guards watched.

Here+?G??G??s what Howard Sapers, Canada's correctional investigator, says: "Simply and sadly put, if not for the glaring void of mental health services for children, youth and offenders in Canada, Ashley Smith would likely never have ended up in a federal penitentiary where she ended her life."

I+?G??G??ll put something else simply and sadly. This is going to keep right on happening until ordinary people like you and me say, "This is Canada and we+?G??G??re not going to stand for a glaring void of mental health services for children, youth and offenders!"

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